Aston and Aldersgate – Over 20 Years Together
Shannon Aston has been involved with Camp Aldersgate for over 20 years now. She’s a current board member and the event chair for Ciao After Dark. In the past, she has been a camper mom, a member of the Junior League of Little Rock and the Program Chair on Camp Aldersgate’s Board of Directors.
Shannon’s passion and involvement with Aldersgate stems from her family and the challenges and opportunities they have faced. Her son Drew was a loyal camper, starting his summers at Camp Aldersgate at eight years old. Drew has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, mild cerebral palsy, developmental apraxia of speech and learning disabilities. Shannon describes him as the one to defy the odds. “He navigated public school, private school, recreational sports teams, and it wasn’t an easy road,” Shannon said.
When looking at extracurricular opportunities like football, soccer, camps and even schools, she says that there were a lot more options out there for her other son, Ryan, who did not have disabilities. She found Camp Aldersgate to be an accepting place for Drew and wanted to get involved to help develop a program where both of her sons could attend together. “Kids are curious and being able to see that people with disabilities can do most things people without disabilities can do, with a few modifications, is mind opening!” Shannon said.
In 2000, Shannon presented a new project idea as a member of the Junior League of Little Rock. The concept was a camp program where siblings or friends could attend together. This way, children with disabilities could bring someone familiar, and the sibling or friend without a disability could connect with even more peers. The program was approved with great enthusiasm, and KOTA Camp was born.
Today, KOTA Camp is one of Camp Aldersgate’s most attended camps of the year. In 2022, Aldersgate added a third KOTA Camp session to accommodate the demand. After KOTA Camp was established, Ryan and Drew were able to attend together, which was meaningful for the Aston family. Drew’s passion for Camp Aldersgate remains to this day, and he often reminisces on the memories he had with his brother and the impact camp has made on his life.
When you become a camper at Camp Aldersgate, you’re always a camper. You never leave Camp Aldersgate…It’s like family. You come in the first day complete strangers, but you will walk out with friends, family, and just knowing that you had the best week of your life,” Drew said.
It’s stories like this that bring people together to raise money on behalf of Camp Aldersgate through special events like Aldersgate After Dark. In fact, Shannon was After Dark’s first event chair in 2008 at the River Market Pavilion. “We had canoes hanging from the ceiling and beautiful centerpieces! It was so much fun to plan and was well attended,” Shannon said.
While the event holds a different theme every year and has evolved, some things remain the same. It has always been a unique opportunity for attendees to experience a taste of what it’s like to be a kid at camp. At the first After Dark, guests made s’mores, got henna tattoos and played games – all activities that are camper favorites.
This year, the event will be held at Camp Aldersgate on Friday, April 21st, from 7-11pm. Shannon says she is excited about what’s in store: “The theme is Ciao After Dark! We will be spending the evening at a beach club on the Amalfi Coast. Guests will be able to enjoy an outdoor movie, stroll the market, enjoy gelato, and dance under the stars…It’s so exciting seeing the transformation the event has taken over the years.”
Shannon knows the importance of getting people on campus: “I believe events like Ciao After Dark are a great way for our community to get a taste of what Camp Aldersgate has to offer. Once you have seen it, there is no way you won’t want to be a part of our family.”
And as for Drew, he says his mom’s love for Camp Aldersgate is evident by her involvement with the event: “For her to be chairman of this event is just an honor. I’m just so excited, and I could not be more proud of her.”
Shannon and Drew strongly believe in the impact of Camp Aldersgate and want to see everyone get involved, whether that’s through a donation or attending After Dark. “Donating to Camp Aldersgate is helping our community become a more inclusive loving place to live. Every kid, despite ability level, should have the opportunity to participate in camping activities available in traditional summer camps,” Shannon said.
Drew asks, “Why would you not give to such a great organization that brings together all kinds of people in such an amazing, safe and fun environment?”